Sally Krueger, Chief PR and Content Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

It started with a phone call from a fan. This customer loved our client’s products, had amassed a sizeable following on social media, and wondered if there was an opportunity to work as a paid social influencer. Because the client had never worked with influencers, they asked us for help. And because this client, Precision Planting, agreed to let us tell their story, it may serve as a case study for other ag companies wondering if social media influencer marketing is worth the effort. Spoiler Alert: The answer is a qualified “yes.”

Lesson #1: Make plans before you make partnerships. It’s becoming more and more common for influencers and content creators to reach out to companies directly, as was the case here. But this should never be the impetus for a social media influencer marketing program. As is the case with any other social media idea, influencer marketing and creator partnerships should begin with a solid content strategy first, with specific and realistic goals.

“In this case, we were already working on a plan to promote a plant stand evaluation kit that helps farmers understand and quantify the importance of even crop emergence,” said Bryce Baker, Integrated Marketing Manager at Precision Planting. “We believed that the right partners could help us promote the emergence message and encourage other farmers to order and use these kits.”

Lesson #2: Choose your representatives carefully. There are several factors you should consider before negotiating with an agriculture influencer. But many companies make the mistake of looking only at audience size or following. They assume that the more followers the creators have, the more valuable they are as spokespeople for your company. This isn’t always the case – in fact, it rarely is.

For this campaign, we were looking for the right partners, not the loudest. Specifically, we wanted customers with certain crops, living in a handful of geographies, all with a higher-than-average level of influence among the farmers with whom they interact – online and offline. We wanted some with high levels of planter technology experience, and some with less. We were also looking for authentic voices on different channels. In short, we knew what we wanted and found spokespersons that matched our criteria, as opposed to hiring someone simply because they have 20,000 followers on Instagram or 250,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Next, it was time to vet the candidates, narrowing the list to a handful of contenders, and negotiating the opportunity. This sounds simple. It’s not. For this reason, I can’t recommend strongly enough that if you’re going to implement a social media influencer marketing program, particularly if you have limited experience with this type of effort, you need a marketing partner who knows both the agriculture social media landscape and has built and retained meaningful influencer relationships. The right marketing partner for a social influence campaign will understand the dynamics between brands and creators, and can help you marry the right voices and platforms to the right program at mutually beneficial levels of compensation and value.

Lesson #3: Remember that they’re partners, not employees. It’s easy to think of a social media influencer marketing program like a traditional sponsorship, with a list of super-specific deliverables and expectations, a rigid budget, and tight timelines. Thinking like this, however, can stifle or crush the best aspects of an influencer program: Authenticity and flexibility.

For example, we started with a basic proposal that outlined the program’s goals, some key dates, the overarching “why,” and the channels we expected them to use. “We told our ambassadors to have fun, and they did,” said Kate Moore, Digital Marketing Manager at Precision Planting. “Some of the most popular pieces of content generated during this campaign were ones the creators came up with on their own, and even talked about together.”

This takes a level of trust and flexibility that some marketers struggle to find. It also reinforces the importance of choosing creator partners carefully (see Lesson #2).

Lesson #4: Emphasize the partnership, not the compensation. So, let’s get down to brass tacks: What does a social media influencer marketing program cost? That depends on the program you want to design. Social platforms, following size, engagement, geography, frequency of posts, medium or format of content, and the creator’s personal interests and goals are all relevant criteria to consider.

But I’ll refer to Lesson 1 and suggest that it’s better to start with a well-defined plan with clear outcomes and round numbers. It doesn’t have to be a huge investment. You can run a pilot, experiment with types of content, and alter the cadence on different channels, all of which will affect the overall cost. By choosing good representatives – and being open to the ideas they bring to the table, which are based on a deep understanding of their followers’ wants and needs – you’re going to have more and better ideas than you imagined.

Lesson #5: Measure, and measure again. What should you measure? That also depends on the design of your program. It’s a common misconception, though, that the true value or return on “social influence” cannot be accurately measured. I have experienced firsthand that creator partner campaigns can become some of the most successful social campaigns executed for the brands who design them thoughtfully. Whether you want to amass more quality leads, convert first-time buyers to second-time customers, improve event attendance, or impact commercial business directly through a promotion or offer, social influence campaigns do work, and just how well they work for you can be quantified.

In this case, we were looking for a ripple effect that extended well beyond simple views and clicks. Fortunately, Rooster uses a customized measurement system that is more than a simple social listening tool or a keyword aggregator; it acts as an interface across any and all social channels, and lets you track and measure content creation and its impact over time.

So, what were the final results? Overall, the results far exceeded the initial goals of the campaign. Granted, this social media influencer marketing program was a part of an omnichannel strategy, so it doesn’t get all the credit. Having seen the success of their initial foray working with social influencers, Precision Planting is expanding this program and developing others with like-minded creator partners.

“Our ambassador content drove significant web traffic and above average conversion rates on landing pages for this campaign,” said Moore. “This is due in large part to the high level of trust and influence the ambassadors have with their followers, and that’s a quality that Precision Planting really cares about.”

This was just one example of how social media influencer marketing can drive brand awareness, increase social engagement, grow your audience size, deliver higher levels of evaluation, and impact consideration of a product. It also happens to be an award-winning campaign to boot, recognized by peers in ag marketing; the campaign received a regional merit award from the National Agri-Marketing Association in January 2021.

If you’re interested in exploring ways that social influencers could help you amplify your messaging, or if you’re ready to kick off a social media influencer marketing program but need some guidance on how to begin, I’d love to have a conversation.